by Al Sacco

RFID Helps Surgeons Keep Foreign Objects Out of Chest Cavities After Surgery

Jan 03, 20082 mins
Data Center

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is employed in some very interesting ways today, but using the technology to make sure surgical materials aren’t left inside patients’ chest cavities following surgery just might be one of the coolest and most valuable applications—especially if you’re the one going under the knife.

You may be surprised, but it’s not exactly uncommon for foreign objects to be left within patients’ chests following thoracic, or chest, surgeries. In fact, a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine study estimated such mistakes occur in 1 of every 1,000 to 1,500 interabdominal operations.

And with a fall 2008 date set for when healthcare providers will stop receiving payment from Medicare for the removal of foreign object mistakenly sewn up inside patients, such providers are looking for systems to reduce these errors. And some are counting on RFID to get the job done, according to

Surgical sponges, which are made of gauze and are used to absorb blood or protect organs, are one of the objects most commonly left behind after surgery, the article says, probably because so many are used and they blend in once saturated. If left inside chest cavities, the sponges can lead to life-threatening infections.

The RF-Detect system from Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries helps health-care professionals keep tabs on all the surgical sponges employed during operations by using RFID tags embedded within them. A wand-like device is then waved over the surgery site to detect the RFID tags.

The system adds $50 to $60 to each thoracic procedure, according to the article, but that’s peanuts compared to the costs of additional removal surgeries, which can cost upwards $50,000 a piece, and infection treatments—not to mention the costs of possible malpractice suits.

Currently more than 50 hospitals have committed to or plan to trial the system over the coming two months, the Tribune article says. A nationwide rollout of RF-Detect is planned for this spring.

So the next time you or someone you know goes under the knife, RFID technology could help to ensure their safe recovery.


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